Art Pepper’s stature as one of the premier saxophone players in jazz history continues to rise 33 years after his death. The release of a recently unearthed concert at Fat Tuesday’s, dating from April 15, 1981, only serves to add luster to his legacy.
The concert was recorded 14 month before his passing and finds him at his artistic leak. The small club setting was a relaxed atmosphere for Pepper, pianist Milcho Leviev, bassist George Miraz, and drummer Al Foster. Six extended songs make up the 70 minute performance, which leaves a lot of time for the musicians to stretch and improvise.
“Rhythm-a-ning is a 1957 Thelonious Monk composition. The six minute solo by Pepper finds him experimenting with the melody and twisting it further and further out of shape. Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love” has been covered by hundreds of jazz musicians. At over 16 minutes, the individual musicians and their instruments ebb and flow to create a smooth mid-tempo ambiance. “Goodbye” harps back to the Big Band era. Some of Pepper’ strongest work was on ballads as his sound had a natural moodiness and this one just saunters along.
Two original compositions close out the set. “Make A List Make A Wish” is a typical 1970’s jazz tune that fuses elements of funk and gospel into the mix. The song clocks in at over 18 minutes and establishes a smooth foundation to build solos upon. “Red Car,” originally released in 1976 by Pepper, is another smooth piece that fuses some blues and gospel into the jazzy mix.
The enclosed 39 page book is excellent on a number of levels. The center of the booklet is an extended 1980 interview by jazz historian Brian Priestley that covers all facets of Pepper’s career and personal life including his addictions and jail time. There is an essay by journalist John Koenig, an interview with Pepper’s widow Laurie, plus reminiscences by former Fat Tuesday’s manager Steve Getz.
Pepper is one of those jazz musicians best heard live and his performance at Fat Tuesday’s provides a fitting epitaph for his career.